Having spent four consecutive weeks without a single (fluent) face-to-face English conversation, nor even a distant glimpse of white coloured skin, I decided a weekend in Yangon was in order. Thanks to a chance meeting with the lovely Leila (a fellow Dunedinite) I now have a place to stay when I’m in the big city. And it has air con.
The weekend was a welcome breather from being The Spectacle around town. It was so nice to speak with native English speakers and even see a familiar face or two. I reacquainted myself with kiwifruit at the post-ANZAC service breakfast hosted by The Australian Club, and wine at a swanky bar in town. An exciting visit to a “City Mart” enabled me to stock up on tea bags, coffee, muesli, milk powder made from milk (everything around here is non-dairy), peanut butter and chocolate. I would’ve been a danger in a New Zealand supermarket.
But the majority of the time I just indulged in air-conditioned buildings and brewed coffees.
By the time Sunday afternoon came around, it was nice to realise that I was looking forward to heading “home” to Pantanaw. (This was helped along by my final thirty minutes in Yangon during which I got caught in a torrential downpour, missed my minibus because it left thirty minutes early and ripped a massive hole in the crotch of my favourite pants – so saturated they stuck tightly to me – while getting into a different minibus). Life in Pantanaw has settled into a routine of sorts – quite a comfortable one if I do say so myself. My daily life takes some form of the following schedule of events:
My wake-up time appears to have settled at 5:30am. I’m not quite sure why, but it’s a bit light at this time, a little warm (but not too bad), and quite noisy (but not bad with the windows shut). This would be ideal if I was still able to go for my morning runs, however, a couple of jogs soon after arriving in Pantanaw caused my Achilles injury to flare up pretty bad so I’ve committed to a full rest and recovery for the poor, abused tendon. When I have sufficient motivation I do try to fit in some morning pilates on one of the local woven mats, or I just lie in bed snoozing and reading for as long as I fancy.
After a shower and some (kind of) coffee I put on my thanaka and wide-brimmed hat (made for Asian-sized heads so I have an imprinted forehead for half of the morning) before heading over the bridge into the busy part of town for some food. I’ve managed to find a lady, of Indian heritage, who milks her own cows and makes fresh yoghurt from the milk. She serves me a 200kyat (about 27 cent) portion of yoghurt, and I add a chopped banana for a pretty satisfying breakfast. She assesses my hairstyle and clothes every day, telling me when I’ve left some hair out of my ponytail, or when I don’t have enough buttons done up on my shirt (such a slapper! ;)).
After breakfast I head around the corner to the classroom/Telenor phone shop where I set up for class, stopping at a print and copy shop on the way if I need to. Class is from 9am until 12pm and students arrive any time between 8:40am and 9:05am. They call me “Teacher” or “Teacher Kim” and consistently and enthusiastically complete any activity I set them. It’s quite amazing! We have a break halfway through class and I often have to stop myself from saying “go outside for some fresh air” as it’s definitely not fresh outside. Break times here are very similar to in NZ – snacks and mobile phones. The one major struggle I have with teaching here (aside from the heat when there’s no electricity to power the fans) is the noise. We frequently have to pause lessons to allow for some noisy tractor or motorbike to drive down the road, or for a loud-voiced customer to be served and on his way. It’s less than ideal and, depending on how our tolerance holds out, we may have to look for another solution sometime soon.
After class Lae Lae (my Burmese house mate and a CEP member who has been living in Mae Sot, Thailand for the past few years) and I wander down to Ko Myo’s family’s house where we have lunch of rice and an assortment of curries and other dishes – this food is always pretty impressive! Lae Lae also has her breakfast here but there’s only so much white rice I can take in a day. We play with the children for a short while then head back, under the hot, hot sun, to our home on a much quieter road. Usually we will take some of the food from lunch with us for our dinner. Sometimes we make our own salads for dinner and just supplement it with rice from lunch.
Afternoon activities usually involve the bed in some way. (Ha! That sounds wrong, but I’m leaving it in anyway.) Napping, reading, listening to music. Sometimes I get the sewing machine out, but progress is slow with my sewing due to inconsistencies in power supply and difficulties in sourcing correct materials. What I should be doing is preparing for lessons the next day or putting in some effort to learn Burmese but it’s hard to find the energy for that. Oh, and about every second day I make myself do some washing so it doesn’t pile up. Hand washing clothes isn’t my favourite thing to do, even less so if it’s three quarters of my clothes at once. The bonus is they’re dry by the evening. We sometimes try to clean, but everything gets covered in dust again almost immediately so it seems so pointless. Luckily for me Lae Lae dislikes the thick layer of dust covering things more than me, and I think she quite likes sweeping too, so I get off pretty lightly.
Around 5pm things have cooled down enough to head back outside so I go for an evening stroll in an attempt to keep my cabin fever at bay. These are little explorations around nearby villages or alongside the river. They’re always entertaining and interesting, especially when I’m invited to sit in somebody’s house or beside them on a bench for a while, neither of us being able to communicate with the other. The kids are always cute, often running naked around the paths as 5pm appears to be bathing time for many, which takes place in the river. Games of volleyball, the local version of hacky sack (with a larger ball) and even pool kick off around this time too. And maybe I’m imagining it, but I feel like people are staring less …
Lae Lae and I dine together in our living area or on our balcony being entertained by geckos and all manner of noises from loudspeakers around the town – last night it was jazz piano, the night before some country village songs, and prior to that the Buddhist rules for living (over and over and over and …).
Po Po comes over after dinner and we have slow, intermittent conversations in English. There’s some small progress happening, but she’s still pretty nervous about speaking in English.
Then I do my planning and go to bed.
SUCH a different pace of life to what I’m used to!!
Over the past couple of weeks there has been talk of me offering some evening classes three nights a week so I might need to make some alterations to my daily routine to allow for that. It might be quite nice to be a bit busier though …